What does the law say?
One of the most important
laws governing your rights as a consumer is the Sale of Goods Act 1979.
Like many laws it has
evolved to keep up with changes in society so the Act now includes the
'amendments' the Sale and Supply of Goods Act 1994 and the Sale of Goods
(Amendment) Act 1995.
This is a wide-ranging
piece of legislation that applies to both new and second-hand goods. It
protects consumers by ensuring that:
- Goods are of 'satisfactory quality' - products must
last a reasonable time and be free of defects
- Goods are 'as described' - a trader or advertisement
must honestly describe the product. If, for example, you buy a CD that turns
out to be counterfeit then you have a case against the trader that sold it.
- Fit for purpose - products must do what the supplier
says they do.
If you buy something that
doesn't meet any of the conditions stated above, it's your right to demand your
money back from the trader (the person/shop who bought it from), not the
manufacturer, wholesaler or importer.
Traders also have a duty
to supply products that are safe. If they knowingly supply unsafe goods they
are committing an offence. If you buy an unsafe product, contact your local
Trading Standards Office who will investigate the matter and prosecute the
trader if necessary. If the faulty goods cause injury to yourself or damage to
your property of more than £275, you may be able to claim against the
manufacturer or importer under 'product liability' rules set out in the
Consumer Protection Act 1987.
Just as importantly, you
have no grounds for complaint under these terms if you:
- Were told about the fault when buying the product
- Inspected the product and should have noticed the
- Damaged the product yourself
- Bought the product by mistake
- Have changed your mind
Some other problem areas
when buying goods
When you buy goods from a
private individual, you don't have the same rights as when buying from a
trader. All the goods are required to be is 'as described'. The legal principle
of caveat emptor or "buyer beware" operates.
Second hand goods
You have full rights under
the Sale of Goods Act when you buy second hand goods, although the law does say
that you must consider the price paid, and if necessary be prepared to lower
your expectations about their performance.
Again, you have full
rights under the Sale of Goods Act. However, if the goods were reduced in price
because of a fault that was either brought to your attention at the time, or
should have been obvious to you on examination, then you would not be able to
have your money back later for that particular fault- so, check sale goods
carefully before you buy.
Services, such as those
provided by tradesmen and professionals, are covered by
The Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982.
Service providers have a
'duty of care' to those they work for and work carried out must be 'to a
reasonable standard at a reasonable cost.' If you feel you've been overcharged
you have a right to pay what you think is a 'reasonable price' (what you would
expect anybody else to do the job for), although you may be sued for the full
cost by the provider.
When work is carried out
by a trader, the law says that you can expect it to be done:
- With reasonable care and skill (the standards of skill
is that of an 'average practitioner in that field', unless otherwise agreed).
- In a reasonable time (if there is no specific time
- Or a reasonable charge (if no fixed price was set in
Any goods or parts fitted
as part of the contract must be of :
- Satisfactory quality
- Fit for their purpose
- As described
When you find that work
carried out is not satisfactory, does not conform to the contract, costs more
than was agreed or takes too long, you may be able to claim compensation.
Shopping from Home
You're protected under
consumer legislation wherever you choose to shop, but there are specific rules
that affect products you buy from your home.
It's much easy now to buy
things from home, compared to the past. Besides catalogues, mail order firms
and buying online, you can be visited by salesmen selling everything from
vacuum cleaners to double-glazing.
You can't always see what
you're buying, so the need for an effective way to sort out problems is
probably much greater than when you shop on your local high street.
You have special rights as
a home-consumer under the
Protection (distance selling) Regulations 2000.
You are entitled to:
- Clear information before placing an order
- Written information about a purchase
- A '7 day cooling off' period during which an order can
be cancelled without any reason and a full refund made
- a full refund if goods or services are not provided by
an agreed date or within 30 days of placing an order if no date was agreed
- Protection against credit-card fraud
If you've got a problem
with something you've bought:
- Inform the supplier quickly and let them know why
- Keep a written note of phone calls or emails you've
sent and received
- You should always send a Recorded
Delivery letter if you do not receive satisfaction
When buying online you're
entitled to the same rights covering any other home-purchase.
A website must
- Clear information about goods or services before you
- Written confirmation of any order
- A 'cooling off period' allowing the buyer to cancel the
order for any reason
- Your home shopping rights only apply to goods or
services you buy from traders who are organised to sell to you without
face-to-face contact. They do not apply to financial services like insurance or
banking (the Financial Services Authority FSA regulates financial services
businesses). Auctioneers, unlike other sellers, can refuse to accept
responsibility for the quality of the goods they auction. Read the
conditions of sale with care. But, unless the seller is a private
individual, the standard terms of the contract set out in the
Unfair Terms in Consumer
Contract Regulations 1994 still apply. They do not apply to vending machine
purchases or contracts involving the sale of land.
Most of these rights
and particularly the right to cancel do not
- Unsealed audio or video tapes
- Unsealed computer software
- Betting games or lottery services
- Newspapers and magazines
- Food, drink or other goods intended for everyday
consumption delivered by regular roundsmen for example, deliveries of
- Contracts for accommodation, transport, catering or
leisure services, which are arranged for a specific time or date eg, train,
airline or concert tickets, or hotel bookings
- Timeshare and package holidays
You have some extra rights
when you shop from home for some of these products and there are other consumer
protection rules that apply.
If you feel that you've
entered into a contract that, on reflection, seems to be unfair you have
protection under the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 and the
Unfair Terms in Consumer
Contract Regulations 1994 - even if the 'cooling off period' has
The above regulations
don't apply to services like insurance or financial advice, they are regulated
by the Financial Services Authority
If you receive unsolicited
goods - that you've not ordered, you don't have to return or even pay
for them under the Unsolicited Goods and Services Act 1971. If a trader demands
payment for such goods they're committing a criminal offence under this law.
The goods in question become your property if you keep them for six months, or
one month if you have contacted the supplier.
Shopping in the EU
Always check the details
before you shop. Your additional home shopping rights in the UK stem from a
European Directive and they therefore should also apply in other European
countries. However, it may take longer for some European countries to amend
their laws to provide you with equal protection. Also, they may not be exactly
the same there as those in the UK, so you should check details before you
Shopping beyond the EU
In countries outside the
European Union, your rights and responsibilities are likely to vary even more
so check these out too. Always try to check out the small print and be
aware that your rights and responsibilities are likely to vary even more. If
anything does go wrong, it might be more difficult to pursue a complaint
against a trader who's based outside the UK and particularly outside the
What is an
- A fault present at the time of purchase. Examples
- an error in design so that a product is
- an error in manufacturing where a faulty component
was inserted. The "fault" may not become apparent immediately but it was there
at the time of sale and so the product was not of satisfactory standard.
Do I only have rights for 30 (or
some other figure) days after purchase?
- No. Depending on circumstances, you might be too
late to have all your money back after this time, but the trader will still be
liable for any breaches of contract, such as the goods being faulty. In fact,
the trader could be liable to compensate you for up to six years.
Are all goods
supposed to last six (or five) years?
- No, that is the limit for bringing a court case in
England and Wales (five years from the time of discovery in Scotland's case).
An item only needs to last as long as it is reasonable to expect it to, taking
into account all the factors. An oil filter would usually not last longer than
a year but that would not mean it was unsatisfactory.
I know I can demand my money back
within a "reasonable time" but how long is that?
- The law does not specify a precise time as it will
vary for most sales contracts as all the factors need to be taken into account
to be fair to all sides. The pair of everyday shoes may only have a few days
before the period expires but a pair of skis, purchased in a Summer Sale, may
be allowed a longer period by a court.
After the "reasonable time" has
passed, what can I do?
- You may seek damages, which would be the amount of
money necessary to have the goods repaired or replaced. Frequently retailers
will themselves offer repair or replacement. But, if you are a consumer (not
making the purchase in the course of a business) you have the statutory right
to seek a repair or replacement as an alternative to seeking damages.
Is it true that I have to complain
to the manufacturer?
- No. You bought the goods from the trader, not the
manufacturer, and the trader is liable for any breaches of contract (unless he
was acting as the manufacturer's agent).
Do I have to produce a receipt to
claim my rights?
- No. In fact the trader doesn't have to give you a
receipt in the first place so it would be unfair to say that you had to produce
one. However, it might not be unreasonable for the shop to want some proof of
purchase, so look to see if you have a cheque stub, bank statement, credit card
slip etc., and this should be sufficient.
Can I claim a refund on sale
- It depends on why you want to return them. The Sale
of Goods Act still applies, but you are not entitled to a refund if you were
told of the faults before purchase, or if the fault should have been obvious to
you. Also, you are not entitled to a refund if you simply change your mind
about liking the goods.
Must I accept a credit note
instead of a refund?
- It depends on why you want to return the goods. If
you have changed your mind, then the shop doesn't have to do anything. But if
the goods are faulty, incorrectly described or not fit for purpose, then you
are entitled to your money back (provided you act quickly), and you certainly
don't have to take a credit note. If you do accept a credit note in these
circumstances, watch out, as there may be restrictions on their use. If the
shop displays a sign stating they only give credit notes instead of refunds,
they might be breaking the law and you could report them to your local Trading
What can I do to claim damages or
if the retailer will not honour my rights?
- The Small Claims Court procedure provides the means
to bring a claim, for up to £5000 (in England and Wales), at modest cost
and without the need for a solicitor. Your local Citizens Advice Bureau can
advise on how to make a claim.
The retailer has said that a
repair is "disproportionately costly" and insists I accept a replacement as an
alternative. Must I accept this?
- Yes, and vice versa if you request a replacement
and this is "disproportionately costly". However, remember any remedy has to be
carried out "without significant inconvenience" and within a "reasonable time"
for the consumer. Remember that you could also seek damages instead.
Neither repair nor replacement of
the goods are possible. What can I do?
- You may either pursue the old route of damages or a
partial or full refund. Probably either would give you exactly the same amount
of money. You would seek a full refund in scenarios such as those where you had
enjoyed absolutely no benefit from the goods. If you had benefited from them
then you would seek a partial refund as a fair remedy. This is exactly the
reasoning that would be employed if you sought damages.
What does the "reversed burden of
proof" mean for the consumer?
- It means that for the first six months the consumer
need not produce any evidence that a product was inherently faulty at the time
of sale. If a consumer is seeking any other remedy the burden of proof remains
with him/her. In such a case, the retailer will either accept there was an
inherent fault, and will offer a remedy, or he will dispute that it was
inherently flawed. If the latter, when he inspects the product to analyse the
cause, he may, for example, point out impact damage or stains that would be
consistent with it having been mistreated in such a way as to bring about the
fault. This reversal of the usual burden of proof only applies when the
consumer is seeking a repair or replacement. After the first six months the
onus of proof is again on the consumer.